The BBC debate reminds us that Jeremy Corbyn is at his best when he’s winning

The Labour leader is on a high – and the Tories don't know what to do about it


Jeremy Corbyn is winning.

It’s still almost unthinkable that he will win a majority for Labour, get the most votes of any party, or even successfully form a coalition. But whatever happens from here on in, he will have exceeded expectations and defied his critics.

Opponents within his party will have a harder time ousting him and the Corbyn project — whose primary goal has always been to transform Labour — will have taken a huge step forward.

And Theresa May is now learning the hard way what Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall, Angela Eagle and Owen Smith have all learned since 2015: Corbyn is never more compelling than when he’s running a campaign — and winning.

Last night, after the debate in which he gave a thoroughly solid performance, a supporter posted this video of Corbyn eating a Pringle. It’s a golden example of the Corbyn charm — he’s tapped into the people around him, game for a laugh but wryly self-aware. He comes across as sincere, energetic and likeable.

This gift abandons the Labour leader when he hasn’t got a cheering crowd to play to. Look at session after agonising session of PMQs, when the Labour benches sit silently and Corbyn does nothing to energise them. That’s the Corbyn Theresa May is used to — frustrated, uninspiring, occasionally churlish.

She was so convinced of her lead that she hadn’t prepared for this other Corbyn, who easily outperformed Amber Rudd in last night’s debate.

‘Have you been to a foodbank?,’ he thundered as the audience began to applaud.

“Have you seen people sleeping around our stations? Have you seen the levels of poverty that exist because of your government’s conscious decisions on the deficit?”

Nor had the Tories prepared for the quietly comedic Corbyn who smoothly shut down Jeremy Paxman’s assaults on Monday night and gave the presenters of the One Show a jar of homemade jam on Tuesday.

The Labour leader’s facade is brittle: as soon as things started to go wrong on Woman’s Hour his irritability resurfaced. Moreover, his supporters’ abuse of Emma Barnett did far more to discredit Corbyn than his own failure to remember the numbers behind his childcare plan.

In the BBC debate, too, Corbyn began to waver very early in the discussion on security and terrorism. Knowing his views on these subjects are unpopular, he struggled to stick to his talking points and stuttered over his condemnation of the Manchester bombing.

So although he has put in an unexpectedly strong performance in the last few weeks, Corbyn is not unassailable. Unfortunately for the Tories, despite seeing a string of Labour leadership candidates overwhelmed by the Corbyn machine, they never imagined it could happen to them.

Corbyn is winning — and May has no idea what to do about it.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Find her on Twitter.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.